Congress avoids shutdown and passes spending bill

By Laura Bies

Congress passed a spending package to fund the rest of fiscal year 2019. ©Craig Fildes

Averting another government shutdown, Congress passed a $333 billion appropriations and border security package containing language to fund federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year. The bill provides funding for agencies, such as the Interior Department, included in seven appropriations bills. Other agencies had been previously funded.

The funding levels agreed upon by Congress are generally an increase over what the president requested for fiscal year 2019, which outlined major cuts for most agencies and programs. It also provides a 1.9 percent pay increase for all federal employees.

In the spending package, Interior will receive $13 billion for FY 2019, an overall $95 million decrease from last year, although some agencies within the department will see an increase. It was appropriated $14 million to proceed with a reorganization effort started by former Secretary Ryan Zinke.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will receive $1.58 billion, a decrease of $17 million from FY 2018. The State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program is funded at $64.5 million, up slightly from $63.6 million last year. The bill also appropriates $42 million for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and $3.9 million for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Act.

Funding for the Bureau of Land Management increased by $14 million, to $1.31 billion. The bill includes $80.5 million for the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, which is a $5 million increase, as well as $127 million for wildlife habitat management.

The U.S. Geological Survey will be funded at $1.16 billion, which includes a $1 million increase for Cooperative Research Units.

In addition to $3 billion for wildland fire management, the U.S. Forest Service was appropriated $3.08 billion for other programs, an increase of $28 million. Of this, $300 million will go toward forest and rangeland research. Noting widespread interest in the agency’s research, the appropriation says, “Congress should broadly define the highest priority research goals, and that the Service should formulate the specific programs, projects, and activities to achieve them.”

While much of the bill is devoted to funding levels, it also includes other provisions for conservation-related policies. The spending bill contains a policy rider that prohibits the USFWS from listing the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercusurophasianus) as an endangered species, as well as one restricting options for BLM’s management of wild horses and burros. Another provision would prohibit the use of appropriations to build a border wall in certain areas along the U.S.-Mexico, such as the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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